By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – A ban on smoking in North Carolina restaurants and bars won’t take effect until Jan. 2, 2010, but leaders in the health and faith communities, lawmakers, and others concerned about secondhand smoke joined Gov. Beverly Perdue on Tuesday to celebrate the signing of House Bill 2 in the Old House Chamber of the Capitol Building.
“You all have all done – you General Assembly members back there who stood up and voted yes – have really done an amazing work,” Perdue said. “By banning smoking in restaurants and bars, I actually do believe we’ll see a beginning of a reduction of the dangers and effects of secondhand smoke. I believe we’ll see a reduction in healthcare costs and families in this State will understand and be grateful for the healthcare signal that is sent.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, was ecstatic over the bill’s passage and commended lawmakers for “doing the right thing.” He added, “This was not an easy bill to support personally. Tobacco is very much a part of our State’s heritage. I worked the tobacco fields as a boy. My Grandfather was a tobacco farmer. I live in Kenly, the home of the Tobacco Farm Life Museum. Tobacco farmers have been in at least five of the churches I lead as Pastor. I knew a lot of people might be troubled with the Christian Action League’s support for this bill. But there was one great Biblical truth that constrained me – righteousness must prevail over all other interest or traditions. The God-given right to life must be vigorously protected by the government. Smoking kills and so does second-hand smoke. This bill best addressed the government’s responsibility to balance the rights of smokers to choose a legal product and the rights of non-smokers to be protected from the dangers of a product they didn’t choose.”
The governor called the passage of the legislation, which also allows county boards to pass even stricter smoking rules, “a historic day for this great state that was built initially on the backbone of tobacco.”
She recognized Rep. Hugh Holliman (D-Davidson), the bill’s main sponsor, comparing him to the “Energizer Bunny” as he didn’t give up even when debate kept going and going and going. She also had words of praise for Sen. William Purcell (D-Scotland), saying no matter the issue or “whose toes he steps on” he continues to fight for the health of Tar Heel residents.
“We don’t know specifically whose life we are going to save,” said Purcell, a retired pediatrician who ushered the smoking ban through the Senate. “But we do know that there are many North Carolinians who will live longer and healthier lives because of the effects of the legislation you are going to sign into law today, Governor.”
Studies show some 1,600 Tar Heel residents die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke, which can cause cancer, heart disease and asthma and adds an estimated $289 million to the state’s annual healthcare costs.
House Bill 2 initially called for an end to smoking in all workplaces. But after a weakened bill came out of the House and the Senate version focused in on restaurants and bars, supporters of the ban decided these establishments were a good place to start. The House concurred with the Senate version voting 62-56 on May 13. The ban doesn’t include cigar bars or country clubs. It does include a $50 fine for those who light up where they shouldn’t and a $200 fine for businesses that fail to make the change to smoke free.
The governor said the state’s move several years ago to halt smoking in schools, community colleges and universities had set the stage for a broader smoking ban.
“The paper tigers began to fall and then arrived Hugh Holliman and Bill Purcell and they said ‘We’re going to go get the big enchilada,” she said.
Holliman said he introduced a smoking ban bill five years ago and the first two times, it failed to pass by fewer than six votes.
“It has been a long run,” he said, offering thanks to leaders of the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the N.C. Alliance for Health and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, among others. “Major changes in public policy take a long time.”
Purcell echoed his words of appreciation to fellow legislators and, in a later interview, to the Christian Action League of North Carolina.
“This bill has been a very tough bill because of a lot of issues involved. Some people claimed that it interferes with people’s rights and all kinds of issues,” he said. “I think the Christian Action League really came through for us and supported this legislation. We deeply appreciate the help that they gave us.”
Holliman said CAL was instrumental in making it known across the State that “this is not a conservative versus a liberal issue. This is a health issue.” He said CAL also helped turn the issue from being partisan to one that was bipartisan.
“Certainly I couldn’t have done it without that,” he added.